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Vetting the Ministries
By Raj Attiken
If you are a pastor who works your heart out teaching, nurturing, and equipping your congregants to experience the grace-filled, gospel-oriented, Christ-centered life, you probably have felt the frustration and angst when someone contacts your church office wanting to insert a flyer or announcement in your Sabbath bulletin inviting your members to an event, seminar, on-line symposium and the like. Worse yet, you show up in church one Sabbath morning and find flyers, posters and invitation cards in the hands of your members. Sometimes you recognize the group sponsoring the event; at other times you don’t.
It is legitimate for you to be concerned about the impact that many of these groups have within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They often leave behind a trail of fear, confusion, suspicion, and distrust, robbing people of the joy and assurance of the Gospel. Often the role of the local pastor is undermined and marginalized.
How do you respond to these uninvited incursions into the life of your congregation by these many groups that have evolved within the Adventist Church? Is there anything you can do to minimize their influence within your congregation?
In today’s global environment, technology allows anyone, anywhere to connect with anyone, anywhere, to market any idea or spread any message. This is a reality that we must acknowledge. The church can no longer control the flow of information to its members. While you or your church might deny access to those wishing to market their events or products within the walls of your facility, you cannot keep information from reaching your members via direct mail, the internet, cable, or other media.
Despite the direct access that people have to your members, there are ways in which you can screen these affiliated or non-affiliated groups to determine whether or not you will endorse, or even permit, their communications and materials within your church facility. I will state them as a group of overlapping tests. However, these are also teaching points that you can use to equip your congregation to make informed and wise decisions.
1. The Gospel Test: Does the group’s message, mission, methods, and influence align with the central tenet of the Christian faith – the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Our experience is that most of these groups are fixated on behaviorism, legalism, and perfectionism rather than on the benchmark of salvation through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone.
The Apostle Paul was rigorous in applying the “Jesus only” litmus test on individuals and groups that attempted to infiltrate the church of his day. He declared, “If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed” (Galatians 1:9, NLT). Ellen White summed it up as follows: “The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary” (GW 315).
A well-grounded and informed congregation is more likely to be able to screen out these groups and their messages that do not align with the center of our faith. Your repeated efforts, therefore, to reinforce the core message of the Gospel, and the core values, purposes, mission and vision of the church will equip your members to make informed and rational decisions.
2. The Credibility Test: Does the group convey credibility in the kinds of claims it makes, materials it produces, and the people it mobilizes to be its spokespersons? If its speaker roster is populated with self-proclaimed, self-appointed “experts” and authorities on a subject, or with presenters who clearly do not have the education or scholarship to address the issues substantively, take it as indication that what it has to offer will be weak, shallow, distorted, and unreliable.
3. The Missions Test: Does the group’s efforts result in extending the Kingdom of God on earth, or does it merely have an inward focus aimed at making ourselves more acceptable to God, convincing ourselves as to how right we are, or at unveiling some “insider information” known and understood only by them?
4. The “Good Fruit” Test: Does the group’s efforts result in people being more joyful, loving, confident of their faith, eager to engage their communities, or more fearful, judgmental, confused, and guilt-ridden?
Ultimately, you as pastor cannot be responsible for where your members go, what they read, or what they listen to or watch. You can, however, equip them to be discerning in their choices and informed about their decisions.
Raj Attiken is president emeritus for the Ohio Conference